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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/453

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437
THE HERRING.

up from some depth, by means of this arrangement. For under these circumstances the air which the air-bladder contains expands to such a degree, on being relieved from the pressure of the water, that deep-sea fishes with a closed air-bladder which are brought to the surface rapidly are sometimes fairly turned inside out by the immense distention, or even bursting, of the air-bladder. If the same thing should happen to the herring, the like misfortune would not befall it, for the air would be forced out of the opening in question, and might readily enough produce the squeak which is reported. The common loach[1] is said to produce a piping sound by expelling the air which this fish takes into its intestine for respiratory purposes.

At the opposite end of the air-bladder there is an even more curious arrangement. The silvery coat of the air-bladder ends in front just behind the head. But the air-bladder itself does not terminate here. Two very fine canals, each of which is not more than a two-hundredth of an inch in diameter, though it is surrounded by a relatively thick wall of cartilage, pass forward, one on each side, from the air-bladder to the back of the skull. The canals enter the walls of the skull, and then each divides into two branches. Finally, each of these two dilates into a bag which lies in a spheroidal chamber of corresponding size and form; and, in consequence of the air which they contain, these bags may be seen readily enough shining through the side-walls of the skull, the bone of which has a peculiar structure where it surrounds them. Now, these two bags, which constitute the termination of the air-bladder on each side, are in close relation with the organ of hearing. Indeed, a process of that organ projects into the front chamber on each side, and is separated by only a very delicate partition from the terminal sac of the air-bladder. Any vibrations of the air in these sacs, or any change in the pressure of the air in them, must thus tell upon the hearing apparatus.

There is no doubt about the existence of these structures, which, together with the posterior opening of the air-bladder, were most accurately described, more than sixty years ago, by the eminent anatomist Weber; but I am afraid we are not much wiser regarding their meaning than we were when they were first made known. In fishes in general, there can be little doubt that the chief use of the air-bladder is to diminish the specific gravity of the fish, and, by rendering its body of nearly the same weight as so much water, to render the business of swimming easier. In those fishes in which the passage of communication between the air-bladder and the alimentary canal is closed, the air is no doubt secreted into the air-bladder by its vessels, which are often very abundant. In the herring the vessels of the air-bladder are very scanty; and it seems probable that the air is swallowed and forced into the air-bladder just as the loach swallows air and drives it

  1. See Müller, "Ueber Fische welche Töne von sich geben ("Archiv für Physiologie," 1857, p. 267). The herring is not mentioned in Müller's list of vocal fishes.